Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

Book review by Deane Barker tags: military, science

This was a wildly entertaining book, because of both the subject matter and the writing style of the author.

The book is about military science, but not weapons. It’s about a bunch of the other, decidedly unglamorous things we do to enable humans to fight wars, and how science is trying to make these thing better.

  • How do we help soldiers stay awake longer?
  • How do we prevent diarrhea in the field?
  • How do we repel sharks from downed aviators?
  • How do protect soldiers’ hearing?
  • How to we better deal with pelvic and genital injuries from landmines?
  • How do we make better military clothing and prevent overheating?

These are things that we really don’t think about much, but they’re critical to be able to mount a fighting force.

Mary Roach is a wonderful author. She strikes the perfect balance between maximum information transfer, background color, and humor – she’s genuinely very funny, especially in her footnotes.

Compare this to Michael Lewis or Rose George which I’ve complained about before. They go too far into background color, I think. But Roach walks that line perfectly. It’s a delicate balance, but she ends up on the right side of it.

And it suits the style of book: it’s entertainment. This isn’t a how-to guide or textbook or exhaustive look into anything. She doesn’t even try to help you understand the vast scope of all of military science. She just provides entertaining vignettes to give you an idea of the challenges that we face and the ingenuity that has gone into solving them.

I would love to have known the process for picking the chapters of this book. It’s so eclectic. How did Roach decide what was in or out?

Great book. Did I learn any practical knowledge that will stay with me over time? Nope.

Do I care? Also nope.

Book Info

Mary Roach

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